Practical Points from the DGPO: The Linchpin of Data Governance Success

DGPOThe phrase “Ride it until the wheels fall off” has always intrigued me. While it sounds fun and exciting, the implication is that while you know you have a good thing going, eventually the “it” has the potential to break down completely. Somewhere in the phrase is the notion that you are okay with the fact that “it” will fall apart, and you are willing to stick with it until it does. What intrigues me is – if it is worth riding and it is so good that you will stick with it – then why don’t you do something that ensures the wheels won’t fall off?

My mom always used another phrase that resonates here, “Ounce of prevention, pound of cure.” Throughout life, I have always operated with the ounce of prevention mentality. (At least I try to. With three young boys that seems increasingly impossible. But that’s another story. Or many.) But, if you blend the essence of the two phrases, you get the value of the linchpin. Wikipedia’s definition of a linchpin is “a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other part from sliding off the axle upon which it is riding.” The linchpin is the ounce of prevention that allows you to ride “it” and never have the wheels fall off.

As data governance professionals, we know that data governance is worth the ride, one worth ensuring the wheels don’t fall off of. So, we need to ensure our linchpins are in place. These are our data stewards securing our data governance efforts, where the rubber meets the road. Cliché? Yes, but appropriate.

But, dropping in a few pins is far more sophisticated than it sounds. Here are a few considerations when it comes to your data governance linchpins:

Not all data stewards are equal. Nor should they be. They are many different models of stewardship that may apply depending on the business or technical intent. Having one job description for a data steward in your company will be limiting, if not initially, certainly for the long term. You may find that you have stewards for specific cross-functional business processes, others for specific applications or systems, and yet others for specific data domains (customer, product, location, sales, etc.). Data stewardship is not a one size fits all role. Your stewardship program will grow and evolve with your data governance program and related needs.

Do not engineer irreplaceable or indispensable. It is common to see data stewards as subject matter experts (SMEs). And sometimes they are. But, that can be a slippery slope. Dependence on a single data steward’s knowledge or expertise negates the value of the role itself. The value of data stewardship is in the execution of effective policy and procedure. Like linchpins, it is the purpose they serve, not the fastener itself. While we would like to think we will keep our good data stewards forever, if they are as good as you say they are, they will likely move on, up, or out at some point. And that’s okay, because you know the role your linchpin fills and you will be able to put in another one before the wheels fall off.

Ensure the right “strength” to do the job. In the world of physical linchpins, strength and material are strong determinants of the effectiveness of the actual fastener itself. As a data steward linchpin, authority and autonomy are the critical factors. When a data steward is in place to keep a specific data wheel from falling off, they need to be given explicit authority to make decisions and act immediately in their respective area. Without authority, they do not have the strength to be the effective linchpin they need to be. Over time, what marginalized authority or strength they have will continue to wane. The cog breaks and, you guessed it, the wheel falls off.

There are many more points to consider when it comes to data stewardship. Data stewardship is not easy and it takes time to implement and grow. The Data Governance Professionals Organization (DGPO) recognizes stewardship as one of six core data governance competencies. If you want more details on data stewardship or information about best practices in any of the other competencies (fundamentals, organization, process, metrics, and communication), check out the DGPO website.

Anne Buff
DGPO, VP Communications


Do you have stories of data stewardship success at your company that you would like to share? One of the greatest values in DGPO membership are our real-world case studies. We would love to have you share your stewardship successes with our members! In the meantime, we will keep sharing our practical points and best practices from the field here on TDAN. We are honored to be a part of this newsletter as it is always full of great information and valuable resources.

The DGPO is a non-profit, vendor neutral, association of business, IT and data professionals dedicated to advancing the discipline of data governance. If you would like more information on joining the DGPO, please check out the DGPO Website.

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About Anne Buff

Anne Buff is a member of the SAS Best Practices group and is the VP of Communications for the DGPO. Anne can be reached at Anne.Buff@sas.com

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